15 Essential Home Budget Hacks to Save You $1000s

Does your home utility bill cripple your budget?

Home utilities have such a wide spectrum of costs, but they are all within our control. We cannot control the cost per kWh, but we are ultimately responsible for the amount of electricity and water we use on a regular basis.

According to the EIA, average US home in 2015 used 901 kWh per month while the highest state energy usage was in Louisiana at 15,435 kWh. The EIA also compiles the average cost per kWh in all states. The average is about $0.12, however, it ranges from $0.10 – $0.30. Needless to say, the states with the highest cost also have the lowest usage. I paid less than $100 in monthly utility cost while living in Virginia, but I know others that could pay upwards of $500 per month during peak usage seasons.

Check out the EIA, here. You can also find power cost by state and month here.

In order to reduce our utility cost, we have to take a look at where we are wasting electricity and what we can do to plug the drain. To that end, here are XX home hacks to help save you money on your monthly utility bill.

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1. Use a power meter plug

power meter plugThe first step to reducing your home energy and electricity bill is to know how much you are using. Obviously, you can check out your monthly statement and see the kWh of electricity you were charged for, however, that bill does not break it out into what devices and habits caused the impact.

Pick up a power meter plug and you can measure your power usage from each outlet. This will help you to map out your energy usage throughout your home. Once you have gone around your house and figured out the big users that are plugged into the wall, then it is time to start reducing the excess non-productive usage.

I like this one which measures power but can also do all the calculations for you. It will output power (W), electricity usage (kWh), and even cost per month ($) when you input your electricity cost.

2. Use smart power strips

smart power stripWe all have electronics that are plugged into the walls. Did you know they suck electricity even when they are off? Check it out with your new power meter plug.

In order to lower that usage, you can look into smart power strips. There are 2 types of smart power strips out there:

These 2 types of smart power strips deliver similar results but are for different uses. With the auto-switching power strip, you can have your home entertainment center, which is comprised of multiple gadgets all plugged in together all power off when you turn the TV off. The power switch will recognize your TV is off and then cut the power to everything else. This can save a decent amount of power.

The programmable (wifi) smart power strips are really cool and allow you to program when they power on and off. You can cycle lights when you are not home. Forget to turn off your stereo before you left home? You can cut the power with your phone app. This is the natural extension of the Internet of Things (IoT) and will continue to integrate across your home for greater savings.

3. Check out dual-direction fans

Ceiling fans are a great way to decrease your utility bill because they can cool you down much more efficiently than the AC unit can. But did you know they can also help during the winter time?

A ceiling fan help to distribute the air inside a room and thus makes your heating and cooling systems more efficient. In the summer, it is desirable to have a fan blowing down and cooling you off, but in the winter time, you want to reverse the direction and have the fan pulling air up from the floor and distributing across the roof. What this ends up doing is moving the air along the roof and then down the sidewalls to efficiently heat the room.

All you need to take advantage of this is a fan that can spin both forwards and backward. If you have fans already installed in your house, look for a switch up on the housing that will allow the fan to spin backward. If you do not have fans already, then definitely look into buying one and make sure to buy one that can go both directions. There is no reason to limit yourself to down flow when a dual-direction fan does not cost much more.

4. CFL or LED Lighting

We all know that halogen and incandescent light bulbs are not efficient, but how many people still have them?

I know I still have some around. They are a waste of electricity, but they seem so cheap at the store. We all need to forget the upfront cost of light bulbs and look at their actual electricity usage and lifetime. CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent lighting) are the curly-cue bulbs that everyone is worried about Mercury in them for recycling. The main benefit of the CFL is long lifetime and low electricity usage. I remember buying my first CFL, I found them at Goodwill for $1 per box of 2. They were 15W but were as bright as my 60W bulbs I had around the house. They are going to save 75% on your lighting bill even before you take into account their long lifetime.

LED lighting, however, is the future of lighting. It combines the best of both traditional bulbs and CFLs. They suck even less electricity than CFL bulbs do and last 5 times as long. One of the major complaints about CFLs is color temperature or the color of the light. It generally cast a more bluish tint than incandescent bulbs. LED light bulbs fix that and allow you to buy whatever color temperature you desire. The one downside is the cost of an LED light bulb.

Light bulb projected lifespan (hrs)50,00010,0001,200
Watts per bulb (equiv 60W)101460
Cost per bulb$1.56$2.00$1.00
kWh electricity for 50,000 hours5007003000
Cost of electricity @ $0.10 / kWh$50.00$70.00$300.00
Bulbs needed for 50,000 hours1542
Equivalent Bulb Expense$1.56$10.00$42.00
Total cost for 50,000 hours$51.56$80.00$342.00

Now that LED bulb cost has come down significantly, you should replace all the incandescent bulbs in your house this year with LEDs to realize the decreased electricity cost.

5. Optimize peak vs non-peak power usage

In many areas, electricity usage is variable depending on the load of the grid. What this means, is that during the times of day when most people are using their electricity, the price is higher. During the night when everyone is generally asleep prices are lower.

Check with your local power utility to see if they charge like this. If they do, then you can look into running things at night or non-peak power times to reduce your utility bill. The best thing about this home energy hack is that it doesn’t require using less electricity, you are simply shifting your usage around the day.

Ideas to get you going would be:

  • Laundry/dryer at night time
  • Charging electronics at night

6. Hang dry clothes

Your dryer is a huge energy suck in your house. Did you know it has its own circuit and a 220V power supply in the US? While most of our outlets are 120V

While most of our outlets are 120V in the US, the dryer and oven both take larger circuits for the amount of power they require to run. The easiest way to lower this cost is to simply hang dry your clothes. It’s easy and you can get the nice smell of spring in your clothes. The average cost per load of laundry is between $0.25 and $0.70, so the per load savings is not much but added up over a year at 2-3 cycles per week, you can save $50-110 per year.

7. Wash with warm or cool water

It takes a lot of energy to heat up water, so in order to lower your power usage, you can run your laundry with warm or cool water instead of hot. A side benefit of cool or warm water is lower shrinkage rates on your new clothes. You really are not losing anything by lowering the water temperature. The load may take a few minutes longer to complete but the energy savings are worth it.

8. Turn down the hot water temperature

Most homes have their hot water temperature set at 140F (60C). Have you ever put your hand under a faucet with 140F water?

It can burn your hand. There is no reason to have your hot water temperature set so high. It is just a waste of hot water because you are going to mix it with cold water to get to a usable temperature anyways. Turn it down to 120F (49C) and experience the savings. We have our hot water set at 42C (107F) and it is plenty hot enough even in the farthest corners of our house.

9. Install an instant/tankless hot water heater

Is there really any need to have a 60gallon tank full of hot water sitting around all night? It may be insulated, but it still takes electricity to maintain the temperature once hte heat is lost.

Instant and tankless hot water heaters save on electricity cost because there is no tank of water to maintain temperature on. It heats the water to a set temperature and then off it goes. It is just a heat exchanger from my chemical engineering courses. As the water passes through, it is heated by either electric coils or gas.

There are also variations of the instant hot water heater that are connected to your faucet position so its temperature is set based on how hot you want your water to be. These have to be individual for every faucet, though, so it doesn’t make much sense money wise. Instant hot water heaters can be installed per room on one for the house.

My current apartment has an instant hot water heater that runs on natural gas and it works fantastic. If you really want to burn through money, though, you can turn on the hot water circulation system through the apartment which gives all the showers instant hot water even with the heater being on the other end of the line. It is a cool feature but makes no sense money-wise. The instant hot water heater works great and you never have to worry about running out of hot water!

10. Check out solar hot water heaters

solar hot waterOne step further on hot water heaters is to utilize the power of the sun to heat your water. You have probably seen these before and not known what they were.

You mount on your roof a tank and dark glass tubes that have your water in them. As sunlight lands on these tubes, the heat is transferred to the water and you do not have to pay anything for it. This water can then be used for all your hot water needs. Temperatures can get very high, scaldingly hot, however, protections in the unit prevent the excess buildup of heat. The pump will stop circulating water through the heat exchanger to make sure it does not get too hot.

Why not use a system that is almost free to heat your water? You only have to pay the electricity for the pump that circulates the water, which is insignificant compared to the cost of heating water.

11. Use water-efficient shower and sink heads

Electricity is not the only utility you should be trying to save on. Water cost can add up over time as well. I grew up on a well where water was free, however, we still tried to conserve water due to the ever-present threat of the well drying up.

Showers and sinks can put out a lot of water, but we are really just using the water to wash things off. It is amazing how little water it actually takes to wash something off if the flow is a good pattern. A high flow poorly designed showerhead can use up to 3.5 gallons per minute, or 35 gallons for a 10-minute shower. In 1992, the US government issued the regulation setting the limit at 2.5 gpm for shower heads which is still 25 gallons for a 10-minute shower.

Water efficient shower heads use less than 2 gpm, so you are saving 5+ gallons on a 10-minute shower and you will end up feeling cleaner from a better designed more consistent flow pattern.

There are also low flow sink heads available for washing your hands and washing dishes.

12. Seal up leaks

Thermal IR view of a house losing heat through the window edges.

Leaks around the house let your precious cooled or heated temperature out and outside air in. This is bad for energy efficiency. If you have ever seen an infrared picture of a poorly insulated house you can easily tell where all of the leakages come from.

Windows and doors are the trouble makers when it comes to air leakage. Generally, your walls will be okay, but your openings to the outside world are never well sealed. I know I can feel the draft coming in under my doors currently. There are many ways to seal up these leaks. Here are just a few ideas to get started:

  • Door draft guards
  • Seal your window seams with caulk.
  • Double paned windows (expensive because requires new windows)
  • Weather stripping
  • Seal windows with clear plastic film over top of them

Regardless of the method you choose, you will see utility costs lower when you better seal up your home.

13. Programmable thermostat

Do you really need the house at 72F when you are not home?

No, but so many people keep their home temp low all the time because they do not have a programmable thermostat or they have not taken the time to learn how to use the one they have. These thermostats allow you to program in when you want it hot and when you want it cold. You can raise the temperature when you go to sleep and lower it while awake.

Some are even part of the Internet of Things and allow you to control your home thermostat with your smartphone from anywhere in the world. The Nest Learning Thermostat might just be the most famous IoT thermostat out there. It pretty much does anything you can imagine and will learn your habits and program itself if you like. Be prepared to save money now!

14. Open and close your windows to moderate temperature

When I lived in the US in my rental house, I did not have air conditioning and it was not the end of the world. I was able to moderate the temperature of my house by opening the windows at night time and shutting them in the morning. This allowed the house to cool down at night with outside air being much cooler than inside. I also used fans to help pull air in and push air out of other windows. Opening up windows or doors on multiple sides of the house allows a cross breeze to really turn over the air inside your house.

In the mornings, when the sun came up and started heating up the air, I would close all the windows and the house would stay cool through much of the day. The only issue was with my computer room since the computer put out heat all day, that room got pretty hot.

Now, does this technique work for the winter time? Not really but you can save a good amount of money during the summer months by moderating your home temperature using the outside instead of your AC units. According to energy.gov, heating and cooling a house accounts for 48% of your utility bill on average. That’s a big chunk, and if you can reduce that to near zero by using outside air you will gain massive savings.

15. Plant trees and shrubs

You may be asking yourself, how can planting trees and shrubs help lower your energy bill?

That is a valid question. It does not directly affect your energy bill and it is outside your home. However, trees can provide shade to your home which will decrease sun exposure during the summertime. When you decrease your sun exposure you decrease the heat load that the AC has to remove from your house. Those same trees, lose their leaves in the winter time but still block the cold winds from sucking away valuable heat that you have inside your home.

Most homes have a crawlspace or a basement that is partially underground. Shrubs planted fairly close to your foundation will help to insulate your basement from frigid winter winds and hot summers. As you can see, synthetic insulation placed inside your home, or natural insulation from trees and shrubs outside your home can all play a role in reducing your energy bill.


You made it to the end!!

The home utility bill is a huge recurring cost for everyone. There really is no way to get out of it unless it is included in your rent. So, if you are paying for your utilities, just implement a few of these home energy hacks and you will be well on your way to saving $1000s.

What else have you improved on your home to save on your energy bills? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. Great tips here! I pretty much follow all of these, but I haven’t taken the plunge on the electricity meter plug ins. I think it’d be cool to figure out how much power our gadgets are taking up. That said, we try to flick off the surge protector when an appliance isn’t in use.

    We do love our Nest thermostat too. That thing really does pay for itself in a short amount of time. The auto-away feature alone is a huge benefit. Nice post!

    1. Thanks Cubert. As an engineer, I love the numbers. Whenever I can put everything into a spreadsheet and crunch some numbers on it, it is a good time. A new power meter will definitely do that and save us money along the way.

  2. Great list! I’m kind of wary about lowering our hot water too low due to Legionnaires, but we’ve done most of the others. We’ve also benefitted a lot from insulating our hot water pipes in the basement, low flow toilets, and attic/basement insulation.

    1. Very cool. Had to look up what Legionnaires. Never heard of that bacteria before. Definitely, don’t want to get bacterial growth in your pipes. You got it right with insulation, pretty much the more the better.

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